History of the Kingitanga
The history of the Kingitanga, the Māori Monarchy, is irrevocably influenced by, and in fact a large part of, the history of New Zealand. It is thought that New Zealand (Aotearoa) was first settled by the Māori in the 13th century, although this cannot be confirmed. They sailed from East Polynesia, and at that time, identified themselves by tribes, rather than as a single race called the Māori as they are more commonly known around the world today. Each tribe had a social structure, including chiefs. It is thought that before Europeans arrived, the Māori population of Aotearoa was as high as 100,000. Tribal history is mainly found in Māori traditions and stories, as Māori was a spoken language only until the arrival of Europeans, from which time some of their observations exist. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, it is not thought that inter-tribal warfare was overly significant, although it did of course exist.
Europeans first discovered New Zealand in 1642, when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman landed there, but it was another 127 years before another European came across the oceans to New Zealand. Settlement of New Zealand began following the development of Australia (New South Wales in particular) as a penal colony when New Zealand served as an outpost. Sealers and whalers began visiting Aotearoa’s shores late in the 18th century, and settlers were arriving early the following century.
Trading between Europeans and Māori began, and the firearms provided by the Europeans were a significant factor in the escalating tribal warfare, as chiefs soon realised that they had an advantage over those tribes who had not yet traded with Europeans for firearms. Even more Māori died as a result of the illness and disease the European settlers brought with them, as the Māori had no natural immunity to them.
As more and more European settlers arrived, a need for more governance arose, and representatives of the British Crown were sent out to take charge of administration. In order to regularise the situation between the British and the native population, the Treaty of Waitangi was drafted by William Hobson (supported by James Busby) and signed by many Māori chiefs from around New Zealand. The Treaty was poorly translated and the meaning of some key words were misrepresented, either by design or mistake, so that the English and Māori versions had significant differences. Disputes resulting in bloodshed between Māori and Europeans were recorded in the 1840s, and by the 1850s the settlers and their government were wanting to buy more land from Māori. However, many Maōri were not willing to sell their land, which they owned collectively. As the disputes escalated into wars, the Kingitanga movement was born as a rallying point for Māori people.
Tamihana Te Rauparaha was never a Māori King, but his role in the formation of the Kingitanga should not be overlooked. Te Rauparaha visited Queen Victoria in England in 1852, and following that meeting came to believe that a monarchy in Aotearoa would unite the Māori tribes as one. A cousin of Te Rauparaha, Matene Te Whiwhi, investigated possible candidates for King and then travelled the North Island, trying to convince them to take the role of King, but many declined, and one of them, Te Kani-a-Takirau, summed up his reasoning well: “You are correct, I am a chief, a descendant of your ancestors. However, the problem is that my pedigree adheres to only one people. My mountain, Hikurangi, does not move. I do not agree.”
After being approached several times and being subjected to discrimination, Potatau Te Wherowhero, chief of the Waikato tribes, agreed to take the role of King. King Potatau Te Wherowhero was the first Māori monarch, and his coronation took place in 1858. Just two years later he died and was succeeded by his son, Tāwhiao, who led his people through the volatile years of the Waikato War in 1863-1864, including going into exile near Te Awamutu, now called the King Country. King Tāwhiao also had to overcome the challenges that arose when the British began to see the Kingitanga as a threat to their authority. King Mahuta succeeded his father in 1894, and during his reign he became a member of the Legislative Council and also the Executive Council of Parliament, thus linking the Kingitanga directly with New Zealand politics. The next king was Mahuta’s son Te Rata, who reined from 1912 until 1933, being succeeded by his son Koroki who reigned until 1966, when for the first time the Kingitanga had a woman as monarch, Te Atairangikaahu.
The current Māori King is Tuheitia Paki, who has held the position since his mother’s death in August 2006.
Pictures are in the public domain.